Last Friday we picked up Mom and Dad and two of their friends, Bev and Bruce, and headed up north to visit the James Garfield National Historic Site. The Garfield site is located in Mentor, Ohio, which is the heart of the snow belt. Tom checked the forecast and said it wouldn’t snow until after noon. Because it was an adventure day, we decided to be adventurous and head out.
The day was gray and cold, typical of a northeast Ohio day in December. After picking everyone up, it took us about 90 minutes to drive to Mentor. Because it was lunchtime, we stopped for a bite to eat. We need to keep our strength up to visit all these national park sites! Then we headed a mile east to the historic site.
The James Garfield National Historic Site is the farm that James and Lucretia Garfield bought in Ohio when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Although they had a home in Washington, DC, they needed a place to spend summers and have family time in Ohio. James Garfield had been born in a log cabin not far from Mentor and always considered northeast Ohio home.
I didn’t know much about James Garfield before we went to the historic site. I knew he was a President from Ohio and that he was a General in the Civil War, but that was about it. But there is much more to the man.
James Garfield was born on November 19, 1831 and raised by his widowed mother. He was very close to his mother and she lived with them once he married Lucretia. James attended a teacher’s college, and then went east to finish his college degree. He and Lucretia married in 1858 and had a large family, with five of their seven children surviving to adulthood.
James was a man of great faith and moral character and he thought slavery was a vile evil. When the Civil War began he was the Principal of what would become Hiram College. He decided to recruit a regiment for the war, the 42nd Volunteer, and served as its colonel, rising to the rank of Major General in short order. Although he had no military training, he studied the military campaigns of Napoleon and became an able commander.
During his war service, Garfield was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for Ohio. James wanted to continue serving in the army, but Abraham Lincoln convinced him he could do greater service in Congress. Garfield resigned his commission and took his seat in Washington. He would serve nine terms in the House of Representatives.
In 1880 James Garfield was elected as a U.S. Senator from Ohio. He went to the Republican National Convention to give a speech nominating John Sherman (brother of the Civil War General) as the Republican Presidential Candidate. After 35 ballots, Sherman was tied with Ulysses S. Grant (both of these men were also Ohioans). In a compromise, Garfield was nominated as the Presidential Candidate and elected on the next ballot. He ran for President with Chester Arthur as Vice President against Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock.
In 1881, James Garfield became the 20th President of the United States. He hated corruption and was working to purge it from the government. He was very influential in making the Post Office an equal opportunity employer. His least favorite part of being President was the spoils system, which gives government civil service jobs to a party’s supporters, friends and relatives as a reward for working toward victory. He felt all government jobs should be based on merit and not on party affiliation. He also worked hard for equality for all people, regardless of their color.
On July 2, 1881, Charles Guiteau, one of the men who had been turned down by Garfield for a spoils position, shot Garfield twice. The bullet wounds would not had been fatal, but the doctors of the time did not believe in sanitary hands or tools. Garfield’s wound became infected and he died from the infection on September 19, 1881. He was only President for 200 days.
After his death, Lucretia returned to the farm in Mentor. She raised her family there, although she moved to Cleveland during the school year so her boys could be educated. A fund set up for the President’s family allowed Lucretia to expand the house and establish the first Presidential library with Garfield’s books and papers. Lucretia died in 1918, and her children gave the farm to the Western Reserve Historical Society in 1936. The Historical Society entered into a partnership with the National Park Service to run the James Garfield National Historic Site together in 1980.
While we were at the James Garfield National Historic Site we stamped our passport books and explored the museum. We had an excellent tour guide who gave us a tour of the house where we saw the beautiful library preserved by Lucretia. Our guide was full of fascinating facts about the Garfields. We watched the movie and then decided we better head home. Although the snow held off until afternoon, it was falling in earnest.
We enjoyed our adventure day to the James Garfield National Historic Site very much. James Garfield was a fascinating man who wanted to make a difference for God. I’m sure he would have been an excellent president if he had survived the shooting.